Chateau Margaux tasting with Paul Pontallier

Academic openess and a possible Bordelais blind spot

Yesterday afternoon I attended a fascinating tasting at Trinity House, London with Paul Pontallier, Managing Director of the Medoc first growth Chateau Margaux.

Margaux Tasting 2011

Paul Pontallier discussing the experiments being conducted at Chateau Margaux

He showed 15 experimental wines, served in 5 flights, demonstrating the really interesting research being done at Chateau Margaux – with experiments looking at different farming methods (conventional, organic, biodynamic), stems in fermentation, closures (for whites and reds), the final flight was four of the component wines from the blend of Chateau Margaux 2011.  A plethora of questions were asked and responses were wonderfully open and honest. It truly displayed the work being done to ensure Chateau Margaux stays at the forefront of Bordeaux’s prestigious wine hierarchy for generations to come.

The examination of three wines produced using different farming methods involved three wines produced from the same plot of Cabernet Sauvignon where a third was farmed conventionally, a third organically and a third biodynamically. The three wines were clearly different, but the results were inconclusive.

It is not surprising that the retention of stems in the ferment was not a positive improvement for Cabernet Sauvignon, if herbaceous green tannins are produced even in the 2009 vintage the variety is unsuited to the technique and the Bordelais should probably reserve the approach for Merlot or better still leave it to Pinot Noir and Syrah producers.

To me the most interesting experiments were the two flights of wines sealed with screw-caps and cork. The white flight was marred by a couple of bottles of one sample that appeared to have oxidised prematurely, but the results from the red flight appeared to show that a Cabernet Sauvignon from a plot deemed to be of Pavilion Rouge quality aged at least as well under a gas impermeable screw cap as it did under cork. Pontallier even went so far as to say that with further experimentation it is not impossible that Chateau Margaux might appear with a screw cap at some stage in the future – he did clarify this by saying he probably wouldn’t be around to see it as they would need to see the effect on ageing over many years – but he was adamant that there would be no point in doing such experiments if you were not prepared to adopt the results.

The tantalising taste of a few of the blending elements from the 2011 Chateau Margaux showed two superbly elegant Cabernet Sauvignons, a fleshier wine from a vineyard adjoining the cellars and then finally a stunningly deep and rich, purple-coloured Petit Verdot that was so explosive and spicy that they could only allow it to comprise 1% of the final blend.

An Ominous Afterthought
It was a privilege to attend this tasting, it was generous of Chateau Margaux to allow us to taste these wines and to so openly answer questions and receive feedback. It was, however, ominous to hear Paul Pontallier’s reply to a Margaret Rand’s probing suggestion in discussion after the tasting that the 2011s might be “wonderfully cheap?”… He paused momentarily then pointed out that 2011 was the smallest vintage in 20 years and the top wines were very good (he did admit they were not 2009 or 2010!)… This sounded to me awfully like the justification he used for the high prices asked for the 2010s. I don’t want to seem ungrateful and I don’t dispute the wines we were shown here were lovely, or crops may well have been reduced, but if we are being open I have to say that if prices for 2011s don’t fall by 20-30% there will be no point in buying these wines en-primeur. The 2009s and 2010s are still for the most part widely available – frequently at prices at or below merchants’ initial offers, making many of them excellent buys. If the 2011s are not released at prices akin to those where the 2008s are currently trading, there will be little reason to buy or offer them. The Fine Wine market is currently alive with excitement about Opus One, 2010 Burgundies, DRC and plenty more. If customers eschew the 2011s there is plenty of interest elsewhere in the wine world, if buyers come to find Bordeaux unrewarding then all M. Pontallier’s excellent research could come to for naught.

I hope this will not prove to be the case.

David Allen MW

The folllowing Chateau Margaux wines are available from stock (except 2010)

  Case of 12 per bottle
    btls DP ex VAT DP ex VAT
Chateau Margaux, 1er Cru Classe Margaux (en primeur) 2010 48 £8,671.71 £722.64
Chateau Margaux, 1er Cru Classe Margaux 2006 24 £4,521.71 £376.81
Chateau Margaux, 1er Cru Classe Margaux 2005 24 £9,016.71 £751.39
Chateau Margaux, 1er Cru Classe Margaux 2003 6 £6,371.71 £530.98
Pavillon Rouge du Chateau Margaux, Margaux 1998 12 £1,021.71 £85.14

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